When the clock strikes midnight tonight it is Canada Day and with that comes the start of NHL free agency. Today Caps GM George McPhee mentioned that he didn’t see Washington as being a big player in that arena because of the lack of success the Caps and most teams have had in free agency as well as his team’s salary cap situation. The Caps do have needs going into next year if they want to win the Stanley Cup and I list them in the following priority order: second-line center, a first or second line power forward that goes to the net, and a physical defenseman.
Last weekend the Caps drafted Swedish center Marcus Johansson with their first round pick, 24th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. This was the third time in the last four years that Washington has selected a center from Sweden with their first selection. Last year they took center Anton Gustafsson, son of former Cap Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, and in 2006 they selected Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Backstrom is already one of the best centers in the NHL while Gustafsson has struggled to get onto the ice back in Sweden due to injuries.
I spoke with another NHL team’s scouting director this evening and he said that he thought Johansson was a good pick by the Caps and will likely be a 3rd or 4th line center in the NHL. Considering how much of a crap shoot the NHL draft can be this doesn’t seem to be a bad scenario for the 24th overall pick. The scout also said that Johansson is definitely better than Gustafsson.
Forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are already gone from this past season’s Caps roster and it appears enforcer Donald Brashear won’t be back either. The Caps also qualified eight players yesterday in Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Pinizzotto, Jeff Schultz and Kyle Wilson while they did not extend offers to Andrew Joudrey, Daren Machesney, Travis Morin, and Sasha Pokulok. Pokulok was the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft so he has definitely reached bust status.
Last Saturday morning the Calgary Flames traded with the Florida Panthers for the right to negotiate with superstar defenseman Jay Bouwmeester sending the Cats unrestricted free agent defenseman Jordan Leopold and a 3rd round pick. That move has definitely paid off for both the Flames and Bouwmeester as they have agreed to a reported five year deal worth $6.6M per season. This certainly gets Calgary back in the elite category in the Western Conference just like the Chris Pronger acquisition has shifted some of the power balance back to Philadelphia in the East.
Another big trade occurred today with the New York Rangers shipping center Scott Gomez and his huge contract to the Montreal Canadiens for Long Island native Christopher Higgins. The Rangers also receive former Montreal first round draft pick Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Donatanko while the Habs got forward Tom Pyatt and defenseman Mike Busto in return. With the acquisiton of Gomez, who has 5 years and $33.5M left on the deal he signed with the Rangers in 2007, any talk of Vincent LeCavalier being moved from Tampa to Montreal now goes out the window.
The NHL scouting director I spoke with today said that the Canadiens benefit because Gomez is the best player in the deal despite his high salary while the Rangers were clearly looking to get some salary cap room. He also said that the only real prospect in the deal was McDonagh. I’m giving the nod on this one to the Rangers for clearing major salary cap room but given Glen Sather’s free agent acquisition history he could easily put his team back in the same boat with another high priced signing. We’ll see if the New York GM has learned from some past mistakes.
The Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed free agent forward Bill Guerin to a one year $2M deal as they attempt to make a run at repeating as the NHL champions. Guerin was a big factor in the Penguins resurgence from the trading deadline all the way to their title run. GM Ray Shero will now turn his attention to resigning forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who now has two Stanley Cup rings (Tampa in 2004), and defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill.
With the Pronger, Bouwmeester, and Gomez moves happening the domino effect could start taking place on Canada Day and there are some big names still available in forwards Marian Hossa (Detroit), Marian Gaborik (Minnesota), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver) not to mention Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, who says he wants to be traded out of Canada’s capital city.
I asked the NHL scouting director if the salary cap was slowing down movement (there surprisingly weren’t many trades at the NHL draft last weekend) and he said that was true. I then asked him if we will see some crazy signings like we saw last year, such as the Leafs giving defenseman Jeff Finger for four years at $3.5M a season or Columbus inking defenseman Mike Commodore for four years at $4M annually, and he said that definitely will occur because there are some teams with lots of salary cap space available.
Check back for news and analysis over the next several days as things in the NHL get really interesting.